I have left my heart in so many places.

The grief of leaving behind a place you love, even for good reasons, is a complicated grief. In the midst of new beginnings there is the quiet reminder of loss. It can seem as if all the love, time, and effort you invested in a certain place and time, in a certain vision of your future, has become only a story you will tell, like a dream you’re afraid of forgetting. Besides the story, what really remains? Continue reading

The Great Cousin Adventure

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is how highly I value the simple act of being present. This is especially true in relationships – nothing brings me greater joy than sitting down with someone to enjoy a meal, a beautiful view, or a cup of tea. As our circle of friends and family has continued to expand around the world, I (and my husband) have tried to make the time and space to visit them. There’s probably nothing we love more than learning from people in different places, cultures, and backgrounds.

So when a cousin of mine married a gal from Sweden last year, we knew we wanted to make every effort to visit them. Very long story short, I also have a lot of family in the Midwest I don’t get to see very often, and it turns out they wanted to visit them too. And the Great Cousin Adventure was born!

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Ups & Downs

Sometimes life is a wild ride. Sometimes just when you think you’re regaining your control of it, it defies your illusions and shows you just how little control you really have.

I’m usually not someone who has trouble being flexible, but at the beginning of this year I was really holding tightly to my plans for the next 12 months. And instead, the past three months have felt like utter chaos and I”m still a bit woozy from the whiplash.

This last month has been encouraging in many ways. I’ve begun to feel better and am hopeful that I am finally on the upswing, even though it will still be a gradual road. I’ve also been blessed with a lot of sweet moments with friends, new and old. I’ve been given a glimpse into just how precious this life is here that I live, and this has made it much easier to let go of my thoughts of what this time was supposed to look like.

But when I’m totally honest, some days are still a struggle. I struggle with looking back and wondering what I could have done differently to bring a different outcome. I struggle with guilt over how my problems have impacted those closest to me in ways they didn’t deserve. I struggle with wanting to control the future–wanting to guarantee that the next few months will bring full healing, that our trip to Europe was merely postponed instead of cancelled, and that life will continue on like it was before February.

The problem is that nothing in this life is guaranteed. The only thing each of us can do anything about is the moment we’re in right here, right now. NOW is the only guarantee.

Except Jesus.

Because while I want to control the future and make amends for the past, the only thing I can cling to in utter assurance is Christ. No matter what the future days, minutes, hours hold, he will hold me fast. I am guaranteed his presence and his eternal life. I can rest confident in his faithfulness every moment, every day.

One of my continued prayers during this time is for this season to help me recognize even more the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. Years ago, I sort of claimed this verse to be my life’s theme, and now I pray that the Lord would help me understand the meaning even deeper and richer this year:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.    – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Thank you, Jesus!

Season’s Greetings

Another year, another Christmas letter! Merry Christmas from us both to all of our friends & family out there.

As I’m writing this, the snow is flurrying in the wind, soup is bubbling in the crock pot, and a cup of steaming tea sits by my elbow…life’s little blessings are so good. And yet this year we have also been blessed in big ways as well as small, in challenging and painful ways as well as joyful. Ben and I have been spending Advent reading through the daily prayers from The Divine Hours, and it’s been so profound to spend time praying towards the coming of Christ together, anticipating the echo of his second coming, which we all long for in this crazy life!

To highlight some of the big events in our lives this year:

  • Jenna has begun writing more for several online publications & blogs, expanding her “justice” interests from simply anti-trafficking work to many other areas. She has also joined the writing team at her church, helping develop women’s study curriculum.
  • Ben is still working at CIS Oregon and auditing fun classes at PSU on the side. His interests in urban development, politics, and social justice continue to grow as well.
  • We began a new adventure by “adopting” a refugee family from Iraq this July, along with a team of seven others from our church. It’s been eye-opening and a blessing, to say the least!
  • We traveled to Minnesota to be with Jenna’s side of the family after the passing of her grandfather this fall.
  • We traveled to Asia (specifically Sri Lanka & Indonesia) to visit some good friends (and eat a lot of delicious food!)
  • We’re continuing to learn what it means to love others & listen well, befriend the “other,” and spend ourselves on behalf of the needy.

In other news, it looks like we’ll be headed back to Europe in Spring 2017! Jenna will be assisting with the Shine Seminar this year, and Ben will be working remotely and being amazing support as always.  He’ll also be coordinating technology for the Mobile Ministry Forum’s 2017 conference in the Netherlands.

Our first few years of marriage, Ben and I used to joke that we could give ourselves slack, because we were simply “baby adults,” trying to figure out the world together. Now, however, we consider ourselves moving into the “toddler adult” stage–starting to form stronger opinions and wills of our own, yet constantly running up against our own limitations and inexperience. We’ve tried a lot of new things this year, and learned a lot along the way. We’ve also made a lot of mistakes, which I suppose is part of the process. I’m so thankful the grace of God is big enough to cover over it all and redeem it into part of His Story.

In the midst of a world that feels harsh & increasingly polarized, and the consistent desire we feel to be doing good & life-changing work, we keep coming back to 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 

And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May you be blessed by the faithful love of our Lord, who is with us in the midst of our pain and our questions, and redeems both our sorrows and our joys for His Glory! We are so thankful for each of you!

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And here we are.

That afternoon, I read the news about Aleppo.

I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. There are unsung heroes all over the world, just as there are in Aleppo, rescuing children and standing up to danger and carrying on despite the near-impossible conditions. Their strength and bravery humble me, and their suffering breaks me.

Hours later and worlds away, I’m standing in the checkout line with a pumpkin pie and can of whipped cream. We drive to the apartment, hoping they understood and are expecting us. From outside, we can see the light shining out through the curtain, casting shadows like crosses on the street below.

The door swings open seconds after we knock. Continue reading

A Tribute to My Grandfather

Things I will always remember:
White Castle burgers
Louie L’amoure books
3pm cans of Pepsi.

A man of the earth,
you delighted in catching fish,
tapping maple trees,
watching birds,
planting tomatoes in hay bales.

They tell me you once longed to be
A farmer,
To work the ground and watch life grow
Each day.
But hay fever had no cure
So you signed up to be an engineer instead.

When you came to visit,
New growth sprung up in hand-built swing sets,
Backyard sheds,
Shelves or fences or sink repairs.
Every fall, like clockwork, the gold-tinged van pulled up
On Sandra Court.
You played football with us in the front yard,
Oversaw Halloween preparations,
sat in gymnasium bleachers for hours.

I loved hearing the stories:
When you met Grandma and her blond ponytail,
Or that summer internship when you bought
Hamburgers ten for a dollar.
We grew up playing in the houses you built together,
Where your love and hospitality transformed
Wood and brick into a home for so many.

In these later years, you shuffled more and talked less;
Ruthlessly guarded your “spot” on the couch
And still remembered to ask us if we’d “met someone” yet.
But it’s your excitement over the little things
I still remember the most:
Apple fritters on Tuesdays,
Cheese curds on Wednesdays,
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy each afternoon.
You never stopped trying new things:
New computers,
New tomatoes,
New maple syrup boiling techniques.

And through the most laborious act of love,
You faithfully sent encouragement my way.
“Jenna, Hay Jenna what a great post.
I really liked this post, George M.”

“Hi Jenna,You always have very
interesting things [to] read about ‘’

“Hi Jenna, OK I get you.
I don’t understand but, I hear you.
Merry Christmas.”